Three Legal Defenses
There are four primary elements of crime. These elements provide a basis as to whether a crime has been committed and if the accused can be found guilty of the crime. These elements also have created a variety of defense strategies which attempt to use these elements to prove an individual is innocent.
The first element of crime is the concept of “No crime without law”. Essentially, a person cannot be charged with a crime unless there is a statute that forbids the action of the individual. The law must also exist prior to the act in order for a person to be charged with a crime (Thomas & Bishop, 1987).
The second element is the idea “No crime without a criminal act”. A person cannot be charged with a crime unless a physical act has occurred which is illegal (Thomas & Bishop, 1987). This is to provide protection of speech and thought, such that a person cannot be charge for thinking about a crime or discussing it openly. There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, a person who is threatening to commit a crime or is planning a crime such as a conspiracy, and failure to act such as child neglect can be considered crimes.
The third element of crime is “No crime without intent”. A person must be intentional in their commission of a crime in order to be charged. This means that a prosecutor must show that the person willfully and mindfully desired to commit the crime otherwise a crime was not committed (Thomas & Bishop, 1987). The fourth element of crime is “No crime without concurrence”. In order for an action to be considered a crime, the action, and the intent must occur at the same time (Thomas & Bishop, 1987). This concept pertains to the idea that if someone accidentally killed another person but later found out that it was an enemy; they could not be charged with murder despite being glad the person is dead. Thus no crime was committed because there was no intention during the act of killing the person.
As result of the elements of crime, different legal defense strategies have grown within the criminal justice system. The first defense is the insanity defense. According to the law, a person cannot be held responsible for their actions if he or she is mentally incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions (Thomas & Bishop, 1987). If a person, did not know they were committing a crime because they were mentally incapable of understanding a crime then the person had no intention and is therefore innocent of the crime.
Another legal defense is entrapment. This form of defense relies on proving that a person was induced by law enforcement to commit a crime. This might occur when law enforcement overreaches their authority such as offering a suspect money to obtain drugs. If the suspect did not offer drugs to the agent then this could be seen as entrapment. This defense relies on removing the element of intention or at least placing the intention on the police (Thomas & Bishop, 1987).
Self-defense is another legal defense in which the accused person claims that their crime was an act of self-preservation. If an accused person killed someone for the reason that she was being attacked, self-defense can be claimed as the reason for the act (Thomas & Bishop, 1987). However, certain criteria must be met to make this a viable defense. For instance, the idea of reasonable force must be taken into considerations. Reasonable force is the amount of force necessary to fend off an attacker. The force used must be proportionate to the force being used by the assailant (Thomas & Bishop, 1987). For example, a person cannot shoot someone because they are breaking into a home. However, if the person breaking in is brandishing a gun shooting might then be considered a proportionate action.
The elements of crime and the defense strategies work together to provide a coherent means for determining if a crime has been committed and if a person should be found guilty of a crime. The elements of crime are considered before arrest and before prosecutors make decisions to pursue cases. In this way, the system works fairly and equitably by only being able to arrest and prosecute individuals within the confines how a crime is defined.
Thomas, Charles W.; Bishop, Donna M. (1987). Criminal Law: Understanding Basic Principles. Newbury Park, New York: Sage